Saturday, December 23, 2006

Happy Holidays!

I have not felt very inspired, as of late. It feels like I have been trapped in one of those "in" periods Elaine Aron described as part of the HSP experience, in her books. Although I have been quite aware that I "need" to be updating this blog, I have just felt like there has been little to say.

I know that my time away has not merely been about feeling exhausted after the move. Traditionally, December has been a month of loss and difficulties for me, and having been a retail gift store manager (in an earlier life) also has contributed to a less-than-enthusiastic attitude about the holidays.

As such, I am going to leave this entry short, and merely use it as an opportunity to wish everyone who reads here Happy Holidays, and all the best in the coming year!

Monday, November 20, 2006

HSPs and Holiday Stress

The Holiday season is upon us.

My experience tells me that the Holidays are as often a source of stress for HSPs, as they are a source of joy and celebration. From the whole "party atmosphere" to dealing with family members we'd just as well never see again, the holidays do seem to offer many opportunities for HSPs to become overstimulated... sometimes with resulting admonishions from friends and family members to "get a grip" and to "not be so antisocial."

As the world ramps up into a celebratory frenzy, many HSPs would just as well crawl into a small hole and not come out till the whole wretched thing is over.

When I was dealing with in-laws and my own family, and juggling multiple Thanksgiving celebrations followed by multiple Christmas celebrations, I found the most effective thing for me to do-- in the interests of maintaining my sanity-- was to go for long walks. Interestingly enough, my tradition of Thanksgiving/Christmas walks started in 1985, more than ten years before I learned about the HSP trait, and how to deal with holiday stress.

Most HSPs respond positively to being in nature-- it's one of the ways many of us recharge our batteries. I certainly know this to me true for me.

So whereas I can't possibly know the particular stresses you face during the upcoming holidays, here's a single suggestion: Take a long walk. If you feel like you must "make an excuse," just say you want to "walk off some of the big meal." If you are going somewhere outside your home, remember to bring a change of shoes (comfortable!) and a coat, scarf and hat, if you're spending the holidays in a cold place.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

After the move: "Post Game Analysis."

It used to be that I'd write "I'm moving."

Now I can finally write "I have moved."

It has been surprising to me how many people have been following this process of mine-- I never really expected that "one guy's musings" about moving from Texas to Washington would make for "interesting reading," but the impression I have gotten is that my process... in some strange way... has served as a window into a process many other HSPs have been contemplating for themselves, yet have avoided.

I often wonder how frequently we HSPs avoid reaching for the things we truly want, fenced in by the fear that the pain of "HSP overstimulation" will be greater than the benefit we will derive from the outcome of pursuing our dreams. I have met 100s of HSPs over the past decade, and one thing I have grown certain of is that we are DREAMERS. And yet...

... only a few of us ever progress from "dreaming" to "acting." As much as we may be dreamers, we also seem to have an extraordinary aptitude for making excuses. We can talk ourselves out of almost anything. Sometimes it almost feels like we grow a mild "addiction" to "being stuck and complaining," and carefully maintaining a state of disgruntlement.

In my current state of "having moved," I realize that I no longer speak of making a radical life change from the perspective of "theory." I speak from the perspective of "having done it."

And what I want to share with all HSPs out there, who are contemplating a major change in their lives is simply this: It is worth it!

Monday, November 06, 2006

Moving: A Place to Live, At Last

I have been living as a "nomad" from mid-September, and now I finally find myself in some form of permanent housing. Permanent, that is, to the degree that rented property is ever "permanent."

It is November 6th, which means I have been living like a vagabond for six weeks.

I suppose many HSPs would say that it would just be "too stressful" to do something like that. And I can totally appreciate those feelings. However, the flipside to the equation is that there is a tremendous sense of freedom that comes with not being tied down to something. I realize that such a feeling may be personal to me, because I have lived for so long with this sense that my life, and everything IN it was somehow like an anchor that was bogging down my soul and spirit.

The nomadic life of the past six weeks made me very aware of how we used "time points" to define our lives. I realized that I was living with this idea that "my new life" couldn't officially start until I was in a real house.

On some level, that doesn't make sense... because what would that make the past six weeks? Non-life?

Sometimes I worry about the way people use time as a "limiting factor." We operate with these beliefs that "something" has to happen before "something else" can begin. I'm not denying that there are occasions when such thinking is the truth-- for example, we have to have the money for the down payment before we can buy a new car. However, sometimes we create "artificial barriers" to doing what we really want. As a simplistic metaphor, think about the way people sometimes say "well, I can't get started on writing my novel until my desk is all tidied up, and all my computer notes are organized."

Most often, such statements do not represent the "truth," but rather a "story" we are telling ourselves to mask some deeper reluctance to embark in a new direction.

Pause, for a moment, to think about where you erect barriers in your own life... barriers that don't really make sense, once you sit and examine them.

Sometimes-- as Larry the Cable Guy would say-- the only thing we should focus on is "Git 'r done!"

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Moving: The Perils of Non-planning

Not all plans are well-made.

This move was very well-planned, for the most part. Pretty much everything unfolded as it was meant to-- and I'd have to say that things have gone smoothly, as major moves go. And I have been part of quite a few major moves.

The part of the move that was not planned was the "what happens at the other end" part. That part was pretty much limited to a combination of "looking around and finding something, once there," and my deep-rooted belief that "The Universe Takes Care of it's Own." It's an approach that has worked for me most of my life, but not one I would recommend for most people, especially those who get nervous at the idea of not "being in control."

So I am sitting here, pondering whether it was a stupid move to come to a place with no greater plan than to just "look around and find something" in a new part of the country.

After some driving around (currently living in a school bus-converted-to-RV, and staying at state parks), I am now writing this from the small historic hamlet of Port Townsend, WA.

On some strange level, I have felt "drawn" to this town, for many years. On a similarly strange level, I find myself here, more or less purely based on a huge intuitive leap of faith. Based on a sense of "knowing" that I should be here, no more.

And, as it seems to be turning out, this hunch has been right on the money.

HSPs tend to be deeply intuitive people. Most HSPs tested by the Myers-Briggs sorter turn out to have preferences for the iNtuiting fucntion. I myself am an INFJ. Many of my HSP friends are INFJs and INFPs-- even though these types are quite rare, in the general population.

Some years ago, I attended one of the annual HSP Gatherings in California. One of the workshops offered was about intuition, and working with intuition. I think we often forget that our intuition is right, most of the time. Whereas we want to intuit our way to something, we tend to fall back on the "scientific method" used by greater society.

Sometimes you just have to listen to the little voice inside.

Because it tends to be right.

Friday, September 29, 2006

Moving: More Notes From The Road

I am sitting in Eastern Oregon, having travelled 2000 miles across the country.

As I look outside, I see mountains, and the air is cool.

The journey to here has been very long, very exhausting, and very "overstimulating," in that way HSPs tend to experience the world. Moving is basically for the birds; moving yourself across the country even moreso.

And yet, I sense the beginnings of a sort of inner peace spreading through my consciousness.

Change is a funny thing. For many HSPs, change means upheaval and disturbance... and yet, change is also something that that can work as an invitation to pursue something better. Most HSPs I have met don't seem to like change very much. Well, maybe that's not entirely true-- they like the effects of change, once it has happened, but dread the overstimulation that often goes with the actual change process. As a result, they often allow themselves to get stuck in situations-- jobs, relationships, locations-- that don't honor their authentic inner needs. Change becomes "too much of a hassle to deal with," and thus is avoided.

Change does take courage, because it often requires us to abandon old ideas and situations that have become familiar to us. Not because they are "right," merely because they are "familiar." With time, we simply get used to the small irritating rock in our shoe... it would be relatively easy to stop and remove the rock, but instead we choose to walk on, telling ourselves that we have learned how to "deal with" our discomfort.

However, sometimes the only right thing to do is stop, and get the rock out of our shoe.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Moving: Feeling Tired (Notes From The Road)

The last few days have gone by in a blur.

I am sitting here, typing this, on my portable computer... inside a school bus that has been converted to an RV (and quite comfortable, at that, not just a "hippie bus"), parked at Brady Lake State Park, no more than 100 miles from what once used to be "my house."

I cannot even begin to explain the amount of work it is-- even with willing friends and neighbors to help-- to pack a 28-foot semi trailer with household goods, in 90-degree Texas late summer heat. I had to keep reminding myself that the trailer self-move was costing $5,000 and the cheapest moving company estimate was $16,000.

A part of me feels slightly guilty about the fact that I am not "missing" what used to be my home. But I am not. I just feel a lot of relief that a large phase of the process is over. I feel relief that I no longer have to worry about a $2,000-a-month mortgage payment, and $700-a-month electric bills to keep myself cool enough that I don't go insane.

(Yes, the bus is airconditioned. It's like an RV. You plug it in, and it becomes like a portable living room.)

Although I don't feel a sense of loss, am occasionally gripped by brief panic feelings along the lines of "What have I DONE???" As I sit here, I realize that a lot of planning and effort went into the process to this point, but much of what lies ahead is open and unknown. Let's face it, I didn't even have an address to give the company in charge of renting out and driving the trailer to the Puget Sound area. That's right, I am moving to a new place without even having a destination. In a sense, that's part of the joy of doing your move with an RV. I highly recommend it. It removes part of the stress of deadlines, finding hotels and worrying about finding housing by specific dates. If I had to do this again (God forbid!) I would definitely rent an RV and tow my car-- it's also great if you are moving with pets; they are less freaked out by having a "house-like" device to travel in.

What I realized, earlier today, is that there has been a subtle change. I am no longer talking about wanting to change my life. I have changed my life.

That's both exciting, and scary.

And for what it's worth, I am not a "High Sensation Seeker" HSP.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Moving: From Beginning to Ending to Beginning...

The room around me is mostly empty; a few packing boxes for "decoration," a desk with a few books and papers, a phone, a computer from where I write this. Actually, I'm writing this from the portable; the regular desktop machine is in a box.

A phase of my life is at the verge of coming to an end. I arrived in Austin on January 9th, 1981. Now I am leaving. Within a couple of days, I will leave this chapter, closing the book on more than a quarter-century of existence.

I have lived in five different residences, while here-- not counting a couple of previous attempts to move away. I started out in a tiny 1940's efficiency apartment that hadn't been updated since the 60's. I didn't really expect to stay, so I never viewed it as much more than a glorified hotel room. It was "furnished," meaning that it had the bare-bones necessities you find in inexpensive living spaces. But it was cheap, and within walking distance of Safeway and the municipal golf course. It had lovely orange shag carpet. It reminded me of the description of "living in digs" sometimes found in English literature.

Once I'd accepted the fact that I was going to "be here for a while," I moved into a new condo project down the same street-- with K, my girlfriend-later-wife. It was a nice space, and not too horribly expensive-- unfortunately, it was bought near the top of the 80's real estate boom in Texas. A few years later, aformentioned wife said "I can't stand living in this little box," so we moved to a house, still within the city-- a "nice" house, in a "nice" neighborhood. Bigger than I would have wanted, smaller than she wanted, more expensive than we could really afford. We lived there for quite a few years, and I stayed on there, even after she moved to Dallas.... but we ended up selling it after she took a job in Oregon, and "the writing was on the wall," as far as the marriage was concerned. I developed a "bad" relationship with real estate-- selling the condo for $30,000 less than the original price, and selling the house for about $15,000 less. Not out of "hardship," or needing to "fire sale," but simply because they had been bought at two market tops and sold near two market bottoms.

After that, I moved into a swank one-bedroom apartment in the booming northwest growth corridor of town-- in many ways, those years were my happiest, as my "load" felt lightest. It was weird. Everyone I knew sympathized with me about "how awful" it must be for me to be living in a 680 square foot apartment rather than a house-- yet, I loved it. I started to become "me," rather than a reflection of someone else. In a sense, it marked a starting point in my awareness (which many HSPs share) that life feels best when it is fairly simple.

Then I met A, and eventually we moved into this house, in 1998. And now, that house has been sold. I am glad to say, for more than it originally cost-- although it feels crazy that in the 20 years I've owned real estate in this otherwise booming Sunbelt city, the general average market price has gone up by 230%, while the properties I have owned (on a net basis) have about allowed me to break even. Adjusting for inflation, I have about 30% of the value I started out with, in current-day-dollars. What once was $100 is now $30.

Interestingly enough, this is also the story of two "migrations." One migration is the journey to myself-- with each subsequent move, I left a little of my cluelessness and "false self" behind, and found a few more nuggets of authenticity. And, with each sequential move, I went from living virtually in the downtown core, to close-in city, to near suburbia, to edge city, to out in the sticks. And there's an odd dichotomy in that-- with each move I got closer to myself, but further away from "being in the world." I have learned (for the second time, actually) that the further I get from a city, the more "disconnected" I feel from the essential energy of the world.

It's an odd thing-- I'm basically a nature nerd, a solitary soul and an HSP introvert, yet I need the energy of the "hive" (city) to help me feel connected to life. But some part of me is aware that maybe I needed to "disconnect," in order to truly get in touch with my introspective self. The process of "finding ourselves," is perhaps more difficult when we are surrounded by too many other voices, telling us what we "should" be. And now, as a more grounded human being, I feel more able to reconnect with the stuff of life.

Of course, there's a third "migration," too. The migration that will take me from the city of Round Rock, TX (basically a northern suburb of Austin) to the city of Port Townsend, WA (roughly across the Puget Sound, northwest of Seattle). Although this migration is happening "now," it actually began in the fall of 1987-- the first time I went on vacation in the Puget Sound area and "felt" something; a sense of "belonging"

It's a very long story which I won't share here (if you care, you can read it here on my web site), but as I sit and write this I have a feeling that I have finally completed my training in "something," and am about to go forth into uncharted territory.

I feel very quiet. There is a great silence in my soul. There's a tiny seed somewhere, "trying" to feel sadness, or loss, at this point of closure. That same tiny seed showed itself when I graduated from college, when I shut down my business, and when I left the courthouse after the final divorce papers were filed. I am vaguely troubled by the fact that these watershed moments only seem to offer a profound sense of relief, not loss, nor sadness or regret. A part of me examines the possibility that I was never "invested" enough in any of these life events to feel sadness when they passed-- leading to the deeper implication that I have "observed" most of my life, rather than "lived" it. Then again, maybe it's normal human nature to not be deeply invested in situations where you largely feel like a fish out of water. Ultimately, it leaves me with an unpleasant aftertaste, questioning why I have spent my life so ready to "just accept" many things that have fallen so short of my expectations and genuine wants and desires.

Sometimes I think I am nuts.

And I wonder why I am doing this.

But some part of my essence understands that I have never really had any "good old days," and this whole process is about creating something that can become my "good old days."

Some part of my essence understands that-- possibly for the first time in my life-- I am doing something (major) because it represents what I truly want, not just some "accident thrown my way."

Wayne Dyer calls it "living with intent."

Some part of my essence understands the rightness of the new chapter that's about to start-- a chapter based in intuition and gut feel, rather than intellect and logical thought.

My common sense hasn't always served me well, maybe intuition will serve me better.

Now I am going to toss the last few things in my office into a box, and dismantle the bookshelves. Tomorrow-- or the day after-- the truck will be fully loaded.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Moving and Life Changes

Normally, I don't write too much about my personal life on these pages. It wasn't ever really my intention to make this a "personal blog," except to the extent that my own experiences are somehow helpful in an "HSP Context." I do have several other blogs that approach my life from a more "personal" angle-- but that's not my point, here.

I am moving.

Actually, I have been moving for a very long time.

I came to Texas in 1981 to go to college, and have ended up living here for 25 years. "By accident." That may sound absurd, but I really do feel like a quarter-century of my life has passed by as little more than "a coincidence."

Maybe "coincidence" isn't exactly the right word. I think the "coincidental" feeling of my existence here is more the result of never having given serious thought to "place" as part of my personal formula for contentment.

As human beings-- whether we're HSPs, or not-- I think it's something we tend to do. It seems to be popular societal more that "we create happiness wherever we are." There are lots of "experts" and motivational teachers who tell us that we just need to learn how to be "happy with what we have." Whereas I do understand the underlying intent behind this philosphy, I believe it also has a "shadow side." That shadow is that we are at risk of getting lulled into the relative comfort of "not reaching for more."

It's ironic, in a way, how we can be encouraged to "reach for our dreams" and in the same breath be told that those same dreams are "just wishful thinking" based on some false notion that "the grass is greener" somewhere (or somehow) else.

I am moving, because I want "greener pastures." And I have been "moving" for a long time-- more than a decade, to be precise. I am putting together some thoughts about the deeper implications of moving, and what it perhaps means to "move for the right reasons." Hopefully I will find some time, between packing boxes and feeling overwhelmed by the whole thing, to get to the bottom of that idea.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

HSPs and Forgiveness

Forgiveness is something I have struggled with fully understanding, over the years.

What does it mean? What does it mean to ME? When is it authentic and releasing, and when is it just like the infamous "solicited apology" in disguise? When is it healthy, when is it not?

In the world of the tolerant and empathic (such as HSPs tend to be), I think there's an unhealthy tendency towards "over-forgiveness," often born out of low self-esteem. We "forgive" people a million sins, not because we truly forgive their transgressions, but because we fear we'll be rejected and abandoned if we don't. Or we have persuaded ourselves that our empathy "demands" that we forgive people, no matter what.

In my opinion, that's hardly an emotionally "healthy" response. But it is one I have seen a lot. I observe HSPs squeeze themselves through the eye of a needle with words like "I forgive him/her because he/she can't help... (fill in awful behavior of your choice here)."

When someone "transgresses" against us, it usually means that some kind of boundary has been overstepped. There may be a one-time event, or a pattern of behavior leading to the broken boundary. Either way, it is a natural human response to feel anger or range... and it's my observation that forgiveness serves to "release" those feelings. Is the inner anger and rage truly released, when we automicaticall "forgive" everything, without a second thought? Or are we actually "selling out," and telling ourselves a fairy tale designed mostly to feed our self-identities as "gracious and sensitive people?"

For me, the struggle has been in closing the "gap" (my perception) between truly forgiving someone, and accepting that I can "forgive" and still "not like" something.

I may forgive my neighbor-- who's elderly-- for letting his dogs poop on my lawn because he can't control them... but offering said forgiveness doesn't automatically imply that I am "required" to either like or embrace the dogs pooping on my lawn. Even while forgiving both my neighbor and his dogs-- I can still put up a fence to keep the wretched things out.

One of my Teachers once said that in our efforts to be compassionate and open minded, we must also take care not to slip too far in the direction of a sort of "spiritual idiocy" that renders us victims of our own tolerance. There is nothing "noble" in forgiving a bully for bullying us because "he had a hard childhood" and then allowing him to continue to bully us because "he can't help it." In a sense, that is no less toxic than holding a grudge and not forgiving. It's merely a "different extreme." And, in BOTH extremes, we run the risk of "losing ourselves" and losing our authentic voice.

So what does "forgiveness" really mean?

I can only speak to my personal impressions. To me, forgiveness is about an "opening" of sorts. It's a "release;" what I am letting go of is the power I am allowing a person, idea, paradigm or situation to hold over me, because I am still holding onto "what happened."

In forgiving "Bob The Bully," I release the power his past negative words and acts hold over me... while not necessarily feeling any obligation to suddenly "like" Bob. Bob is still a bully, and he's completely unwelcome to bring his toxicity near me, even though I have forgiven the past.

Although it's unlikely that Bob will even be aware that he did anything warranting forgiveness, he might whine and claim that I haven't really "forgiven" him, since I don't want to hang out with him anymore. That's his prerogative. But at least I feel a measure of peace, in releasing Bob's "hold" over me. And I think forgiveness is ultimately more about appeasing our feelings, than someone else's.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Thoughts on and HSPs and "Overreacting"

I recently observed a discussion among HSPs, on the topic of "overreacting." Do we, in fact "overreact" in response to stimuli? Do we exaggerate the seriousness of an event or experience, when it happens, as a result of our more attuned nervous systems?

I have always felt that communication is really a small miracle.

As we wander through life, we run into so many problems because of miscommunication. Most often (and most confusing) trouble arises when we actually genuinely "hear" what someone is saying, but we filter the intended meaning through our individual lenses of perception. We might "hear" that someone is hurting, but we give them an aspirin when what they wanted was a hug.

I contend that one person's exaggeration is another's normal. What IS overreacting, anyway? If I find myself standing near a wasp's nest, I almost panic and have to get out of there. People look at me with puzzled expressions and say "Get a grip! They are just bugs!" But my reality is that I am extremely allegic to the stings and will end up in the hospital, if stung. Am I still "overreacting?" Or is it a "proportional response," given my particular sensitivities? Or is the underlying Truth that everyone responded appropriately to the situation?

I think we do ourselves a disservice when we try to clamp too narrow definitions on stuff like "how we should react" in a specific situation. As HSPs, we observe and perceive more deeply, and since most HSPs are also intuitive/empathic, we also respond to "things unseen" by most people. Yet, for us they are very real. I feel that sensitivity and the appearance of overracting (in the perception of non-HSPs, especially) are quite consistent... and thus neither something to feel concerned about, nor something to apologize for. We see the metaphorical 18-wheeler bearing down on us before others, and so our immediate "let's get out of the way" response is seen as "hysterical" by those who don't perceive the speeding truck till it's right in their face.

That doesn't make us wrong, merely different.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

The Pervasiveness of Abuse: Denial of Voice

In one of the HSP groups on Yahoo, one conversation has recently been going on the topic of abuse-- most specifically, verbal and emotional abuse.

Based on talking to 100's (maybe 1000's?) of HSPs via email over the past decade, and from message boards and listservs and online communities, as well as from Gatherings and workshops... it seems to be a sad fact that an alarming number of HSPs end up being part of an emotionally/verbally abusive dynamic I can best describe as "denial of voice."

It may be that everyone who has something "a little different" about them (HSP or not) is subject to having their reality questioned by the mainstream, but with the typical HSPs' soft spoken and accommodating demeanor, they seem more likely to have their voice "walked on" by dominant (but usually insecure) personalities. In isolated incidents it might not really constitute "abuse," but as a pattern in primary relationships/friendships it quickly does cross over into abuse. Invalidating someone because you feel threatened by their not thinking like you is-- at the very LEAST-- a form of bullying. Bullying as a long term pattern is abusive.

I was raised with this pattern, and have become rather "intimately familiar" with it, as I worked through my large "valise" of old baggage. My typical memory of childhood would be making statements like "Mom, the label in my shirt is scratchy," and getting responses like "Oh, what absolute nonsense! You can't feel a thing;" or if I expressed sadness over some roadkilled animal at the side of the road my dad might say "Rubbish! People don't feel sad over such things." Quite literally, your voice is "denied." And in the process, you gain a feeling of being "defective." For me, it became my "truth" (false, rather than my Authentic Truth) as I reached adulthood that my feelings had "no value." Thus, I "learned" to not HAVE feelings.

Most people don't recognize this type of dynamic as "something" because it doesn't look abusive... there's no yelling, and to most people it just looks like "friendly bantering" between spouses/family members. In fact, most mental health professionals (except emotional abuse specialists) will semi-brush it aside and say stuff like "You just need some assertiveness training." Useful as that may be (and I certainly don't deny that it has its place), fighting fire with fire doesn't actually remove the fire. The situation is generally self-perpetuating, because the abuser paints themselves the "victim" of someone's hypersensitivity.

Abuse is wrong, no matter what form it takes.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Newcomers to the realm of High Sensitivity

It always delights me when I come across a "new" HSP on my travels.

Of course, we've all been the way we are since birth, so "new" is a relative term. In this case, I mean this as a person who talks about their life and I recognize that they simply must be an HSP. And with a bit of quiet explanation, I can help them see that all the pain, and all the feeling like a misfit doesn't mean there's something "wrong" with them.

An elderly gentleman-- who has since passed away-- once told me that a good goal for living was to "Leave the world a better place for us having been here." Although he was no HSP, those words made a lot of sense... and, in a way, they seem very fitting of the social consciousness often found among HSPs.

As I have pointed out before, we tend to get trapped with the idea that the "improvement" we owe the world must be very large. Which, in fact, is not true at all. Just talking to this one person, and explaining to them what the HSP trait is, and how it might affect their life, does make a difference. And so, everytime you welcome a "newcomer" to the concept of being highly sensitive, you are making the world a better place.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

California Gathering postscript

I felt disappointed that I did not end up going to the 5th annual Gathering in California, earlier this month. In a sense, the Gatherings have come to be like a "touchpoint to sanity" for me, in recent years. But it was not to be, as there was a contract on the house (which eventually fell through) which made it infeasible for me to leave. The event was at Walker Creek Ranch again this year, and I was looking forward to going back.

I have been waiting for feedback to arrive from some of the people who went, but have not yet heard anything. The world seems to be somewhat in upheaval these days, and it makes me wonder how the atmosphere at the Gathering might have been. These seem to be difficult days for HSPs. The world is increasingly being torn by strife and wars, and evermore aggressiveness and competitiveness seems to be the order of the day, in order for people to just make ends meet in the working life.

Friday, May 05, 2006

The Struggle to Embrace Our HSP-ness

Many HSPs struggle with their lives. Of course, "struggle" is probably a normal part of all lives, but it seems like HSPs struggle more, perhaps because they are more deeply affected by events around them. However, I don't think that tells the whole story.

Elaine Aron describes the HSP trait as "neutral," and invites us to find ways to honor our sensitivity, and make the most of our gifts. That said, I must confess that among the 100's of HSPs I have met over the past decade, most have shared more pain, struggle and lamentation than anything else. I hear these HSPs exclaim "This is not a gift! This is a curse!" Thinking back over my own journey, perhaps I used to do the same, myself. But, as I look deeper into the underlying reasons for the struggle, I think perhaps we "miss the point," somehow.

I think we may do ourselves a disfavor by comparing our lives too much to the norm; the so-called "societal standard." There's really a bit of a dichotomy there-- because by recognizing we're HSPs we have just taken upon ourselves the notion that we're a little "different" from everybody else, yet we continue to measure the "content of our lives" against what the rest of the world does. Stated a little differently, many of those who report struggles are reporting those struggles in areas that in NO WAY make any attempt to incorporate the gifts of the HSP trait into what they are doing. Metaphorically speaking, it's a bit like being hypersensitive to sound and then standing around complaining that you're just not able to work in the business of testing jet engines. Well.... HELLO! Spud Webb (who is 5'7") may have played in the NBA, but basketball players are typically 6'6", and most people who are 5'7" realize that a basketball career is probably not a good fit for them.

The point I am trying to make here, is that many of our ostensible "struggles" are not at all about being an HSP, and all about our own stubbornness.

Truly accepting one's HSP-ness is also about making wise choices. Honoring the trait is about making the most of who we are, rather than standing around complaining that it's the trait's "fault" that we can't become the next Mario Andretti.

I spent many years in business/sales/marketing, and never really felt "right" about it... but also was following a path that represented my feeling of what I "should" be doing to build a "successful" career. It wasn't really my definition of life, but some "outside factor's" definition. Learning that I was an HSP offered me an invitation to look deeper at what my life really "meant," and where I fit in, in the world. And I took the invitation to "re-invent" myself, and choose a more "HSP-friendly" lifestyle.

So here's a question for you, whether you've just discovered the trait, or have known about it for a while:

"Are you working WITH your sensitivity, or AGAINST it?"

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Get Ready! The 2006 California HSP Gathering is just two months away!

Registration for the 2006 Annual California HSP Gathering & Retreat has now begun! The Gathering will take place on June 14th-18th, at Walker Creek Ranch in Marin County, north of San Francisco, CA.

As in previous years, Elaine Aron will give the keynote presentation; this year the topic will be:

"What's special about the HSP's brain and body-- scientific facts and theories."

In addition, there will be a number of other workshops offered, relating to various aspects of living as an HSP. However, as much as the Gatherings are an opportunity to learn, they are also an opportunity to meet and get to know other HSPs. The workshops are optional, allowing participants to "set their own pace," and there will be plenty of time to just relax in a supportive and validating environment.

Walker Creek Ranch has been the venue for several previous Gatherings, and is an HSP-friendly conference and educational facility located on 1700 fenced acres near Tomales Bay, with miles of hiking trails and opportunities to be outside in quiet natural surroundings.

If you have concerns about being an HSP and participating in a "group" event, or are merely curious about what it's like to be at a Gathering, please visit my online photojournal from the 2003 California Gathering, which also took place at Walker Creek Ranch. It will give you a good feel for both the location, as well as the "atmosphere" of an HSP Gathering.

The sooner you register the better! The conference fee is $225 until April 15th, $250 from April 16th to May 15th, and $275 thereafter. After June 1st, registration will be strictly on a "space-available" basis.

A variety of accomodations are available, ranging from "dormitory style" housing to private rooms. This year, for the first time, there will also be a "camping option," allowing you to bring your tent and sleeping bag, while having access to the central bathhouse and dining hall (11 meals, 4 nights).

For more HSP Gathering information, please visit Jacquelyn Strickland's web site. You can download a registration form online (requires Adobe Acrobat Reader), and payment can either be mailed in, or made through PayPal, a secure online payment facility that accepts "virtual checks" and credit cards. Here's a link to information about making secure online payment.

As a participant at several past HSP Gatherings, I highly recommend the experience. And yes, I am an introvert, and yes, I was very apprehensive about going to a "group thing," the first time I went. However, I fairly quickly learned that a group of HSPs is not at all like "a group," much the way our community here isn't like most other online communities.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Why is the HSP trait not better known?

I was recently asked this question, but someone who evidently thought I would know the answer, as a result of almost 10 years of "HSP awareness." The person was feeling a bit down, thinking that "nobody thinks HSPs are important," and expressed a wish that someone would get on Oprah and talk about it. I got to thinking a bit about this assertion, a couple of days ago.

On the most superficial of levels, Elaine Aron did us all a huge favor by taking this thing called "sensitivity" and removing it from the realm of "pathologies" and into the realm of a "neutral inborn trait." Personally, I am happy there is nothing "wrong" with me, and all I have to know is how to manage a trait that's sometimes a bit challenging. I can deal with that.

There's a downside to the HSP trait being classified as such, which is that because it is a "neutral trait" and NOT a "disease" or "pathology," it doesn't get the same attention a mental disorder might. Sure, we have certain "special needs," but so do people who are 6'6" tall. And they don't get a show on Oprah, either.

That's the "flip" and "easy" answer.

The term "HSP" has been around for only about a decade. Although there was research done on "hypersensitivities" and "hyperexcitabilities" in gifted individuals in the 70's (Kazimiercz Dabrowski, Elaine Aron was really the first to say "this is a natural trait, not a dysfunction." It takes a lot longer than ten years for something to gain mainstream recognition. It also takes independent research by a number of experts to confirm the original findings. The latter is currently happening both in Germany and in the Netherlands.

The good news is that awareness IS spreading. An increasing number of therapists have Elaine Aron's books on their shelves. Many people in the healing/helping professions not only know about the trait, they ARE HSPs. If you google "Highly Sensitive Person" you get over 100,000 hits. Just three years ago it was fewer than 10,000. There are counselors and life coaches who ONLY work with HSPs. There are dozens of HSP groups on the web, HSP web rings, support groups and blog rings. The annual HSP Gatherings, which started as an "experiment" in 2001, have grown to where there will now be Gatherings in four different locations this year, including the UK and Canada. When I learned about being an HSP, I found one online group with fewer than 30 members.

We are, in a sense, still the "pioneers" of this trait-- I suspect that 100 years from now the term "HSP" will raise no more eyebows than "left handed" does, today.

All we can really do be to be "good ambassadors" for what we are. And how we are. Tell those we meet who seem like they might be HSPs about the trait. Be "involved," rather than sit as passive observers. A couple of years ago, I was at a workshop on the enneagram and somehow "sensitivity" came up (not in an "HSP" context) and after mentioning the HSP book, it turned out that 6 of 30-odd people in the class had either read the book, or heard about the trait. I have three copies of the first book (because I lend it out a lot) and they were lent out and examined by a dozen people at the workshop, in the course of a week. In a receptive environment, people are grateful to have answers.

I think some HSPs get frustrated, and start directing their energies in a negative direction. Their focus becomes on getting respect and "special treatment" from a world they see as not supportive. Frankly, I think that energy could be better used to tell people who are HSPs, but don't know it as "a trait" that they are really not "nuts."

Maybe the day will come when we are on Oprah-- but in my opinion, being on Oprah would have to be all about pointing out the benefits and strengths of being an HSP, rather than reqesting "special treatment" from the world because we're sensitive. Wearing a mantle of "victimhood" will get us nowhere. And without greater awareness among those who are HSPs, but don't know it yet, we probably won't be on Oprah. The supporting numbers are simply too small. And whether Elaine would go on Oprah, if invited, I don't even know.

Thus, until that day comes, perhaps the best we can do may be to simply accept ourselves and set a good example.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

The Giving Nature of HSPs

I believe many HSPs tend to have very giving and nurturing natures. This can be somewhat of a mixed blessing, as many HSPs I have met talk about the way they often end up "feeling used" by others. Personally, I like my giving nature, and I also like being around other HSPs for that exact same reason.

At the same time, I have also struggled considerably with the issues of "healthy boundaries" and "co-dependency." In the decade or so I have spent being "aware" of the HSP trait, I've noticed that these two issues are not uncommon among HSPs.

For me, the learning process has been one of understanding the difference between giving as "right action" (you simply help and give because it's what you want to do) and giving as a "transaction" (a sort of unhealthy "giving to get" dynamic), where you're expecting something back, as a result of what you have done. I've found that when I slip into attaching "expectations" to something I give, I invariably end up disappointed.

I used to give a lot to be "validated" as a "nice person;" here the "purpose" of my giving was clearly a desire to be "liked" and "accepted." I also used to give a lot because I was raised in an enviroment where "getting love" was contingent on what I could DO for people... I experienced no acceptance for "simply BE-ing me." Thus "giving" equated to receiving some form of "pseudo-love."

Of course, there's nothing wrong with wanting to be liked. But there'a also nothing wrong with being "selective" about what we give, and to whom. I've found a certain measure of inner peace as a result of "investing" my generosity in those who are genuinely appreciative of it, rather than people who are just looking for a (metaphorical) "free lunch."

Of course, it's not always easy to tell the difference, up front.... but I know I am never "obligated" to keep pouring water into a bucket that has a hole in it..... Ultimately, I have to ask myself how the relationship "feels." If the connection with another-- which could be a friend, colleague, lover, family member-- most leaves me feeling drained or exhausted, then an imbalance exists. I think of it as "1+1" adding up the less than 2. On the other hand, if I am giving, and I continue to feel energized and enriched, then a sort of "synergy" exists between me and the other person, in which "1+1" adds up to more than 2.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

HSP Topics: Love, dating and finding "The One"

In my near-decade of knowing about the HSP trait, and HSPs, the issue of "love and mating" appears to be one that causes an especially large number of headaches and heartaches for Highly Sensitive People.

On the surface, this is perhaps not so surprising. Looking at it logically, HSPs tend to struggle immensely with feeling "accepted" in the world, and they often struggle with self-acceptance, as well. Hence it doesn't take a degree in rocket science to figure out that these difficulties would readily transfer to the process of "finding love," as well.

Elaine Aron and other "experts" on the HSP trait speculate that many HSPs tend to "fall into" relationships. There can be a variety of reasons for this, ranging from simply accepting a connection that feels "somewhat good" (because it feels so much "better" than what we're used to), to getting "pushed" into a relationship with someone who moves "quickly," while we HSPs like to take time to process and deliberate, before making a decision.

In one of the online HSP discussion groups, the issue of dating and mating recently seemed to approach "boiling point" when someone posted an article about a woman who was previously very selective, but made a conscious decision to say "yes" to every single man who asked her on a date. In the final outcome, she dated some 150 people, but did end up finding "The One," as a result of her change in approach.

Now, whether you subscribe to such a notion as a love relationship with a person who's "The One," or not, is an individual matter that's not for me to decide. I happen to be a hopeless idealist who does believe in such a thing, but that's neither here nor there. I think the general ideas here can be applied to pretty much any situation.

As I read the many opinions offered by dozens of HSPs, I started to think about some issues I have observed as "obstacles," both for myself and for others. I'd thought about these before, but only in a "separate" sort of way. Now I suddenly realized how interrelated they all were.

Many HSPs tend to fall into a (frequently unhealthy) pattern of "waiting for life to come TO them." For whatever reasons-- but often the desire to avoid pain-- we gravitate towards taking a rather "passive" role; in life, and in love as well. Hence the "falling into" relationships. After all, if you're going to "take" whatever life brings you, you'd better be prepared to accept "whatever" life throws your way. Even if it turns out to be rather less than we had hoped for.

Some years ago, a friend told me something she'd learned during a discussion at a self-growth workshop. Over lunch, they were talking about self-actualization, and finding peace, and finding Self. Somehow, the discussion turned to "partnering," and one of the Teachers pointed out something I found to be particularly insightful and relevant:

The more "aware" and self-actualized a person becomes, the fewer truly compatible potential partners exist-- that is, people who can "meet you" at the same level of awareness and mental health. Beyond that, the more "special" your set of "life traits" (for example, being an HSP, or being 6'9" tall, or in the top 1% of being "gifted") the more "specialized" your desired partner's traits becomes. And the more specialized the partner who finds your particular basket of traits attractive. In other words, your potential "pool" of mates goes from maybe 1-in-25 to 1-in-1000, or worse. Those are just arbitrary numbers, by the way, used for example's sake. But my point is, "extraordinary" people more often seem like they have "settled" in their relationships.

"Extraordinary" may seem like an uncommonly arrogant and self-important term for an HSP to use. But I don't mean it in a self-congratulatory or inflated way. After all, who benefits when someone with "uncommon" traits pretends to be "common?"

At a completely different workshop I went to, some years back, a different conversation about "mating" took place. Again it related to the process of healthy self-love, and "finding self," with the eventual point made that the "brighter your light," the more (generally unhealthy) people will be attracted to it, in order to feel illuminated by it. The less "healthy" a person is, the more likely they are to gravitate towards someone who has the characteristics they perceive to be lacking in themselves.

The "consequence," of course, being that self-aware people tend to get far greater exposure to others who want to be "with" them, and those others often have dubious qualities and questionable mental health. So now you may be asking "What does this have to do with being an HSP?" HSPs, being generally introspective and interested in self-development tend to be fairly self-aware people. This can set up an interesting (and very challenging) dynamic in which we are often "attractors" for those who have a load of "psychic baggage," but our kind natures and discomfort around rejection "pushes" us into situations that are not healthy for us.

Getting back to the woman who dated 150 men, I am not suggesting that this is necessarily an appropriate strategy for HSPs. What I am suggesting is that HSPs may have a more difficult time finding someone they "click" and, as such, we really need to be more willing to give ourselves "lots of exposure." Which may feel scary to most, since we tend to be rather private and reclusive people. I suppose the "bottom line" here, is that if you're looking for someone who's "one-in-a-million," you also have to be willing to take the steps and action to (potentially) expose yourself to a million people.

Then I realized that for any of this to "make sense," we have to start with self-love and self-acceptance. Several years ago, Elaine Aron gave a talk entitled "Healing ourselves so we can heal the world." The phrase has stuck with me, in the sense of how important it is that we look to ourselves first, to come to terms with what we want in life. Nobody is going to "ride in on a fine white charger" to rescue us from ourselves and solve our problems for us, especially our love problems.

Which brings me up to the present time, and to this morning, as I was reading a huge backlog of HSP group emails.

In reading the many words, I suddenly "touched" self-love. What I mean is, I felt it, rather than just being able to intellectually describe it. Self-love in its purest form, I realized, is what happens when you openly allow yourself to be "100% yourself," with yourself, and with another. It's not about looking in the mirror and repeating the mantra "I love myself," 100 times every morning. It's about simply accepting What Is; and if you find something you don't like, simply accepting it, saying "this doesn't feel right," and then taking a step towards something you do like.

And those "amazing" relationships we sometimes see, and wish we had.... I think they tend to be the product of two people-- in a state of self-love-- occupying the same space, while their states of being "100% themselves" happen to be exactly what "feels right" to the other.

Now, I can already hear the "Peanut Gallery" going; the words of "Yeah, like that's gonna happen!" raining down from the balcony. To which I reply "Certainly not if you're leaving your life up to random chance! And certainly not if you don't believe it is possible!"

I suppose it's not merely an issue for HSPs, but I believe we have to truly "know ourselves" before we can hope to know what it is we want in another. And the self-love I mentioned before, is largely a product of knowing ourselves, because until we truly know what "ourselves" means, we can't be ourselves. Alas, it's a step we often "conveniently" overlook, as we set forth in the world with great hopes that "the right person" will make our lives whole and perfect. Whereas I believe there may be a half-truth there, I also don't believe that perfection with another can exist till we have created it (to whatever degree possible) in ourselves.

Here's something I personally believe to be true. Regardless of whether you're looking for romance, work or happiness, everything you put out in the world is a "beacon" containing information about you. What you say, what you write, where you write it, what you wear, where you go. They work like a "universal energy signature," and others in the world "interact" with them, much as we might "interact" with the produce at the grocery store. Some we like, some we don't some we feel indifferent towards. In "combination" some might be horrible, and some might be nigh onto perfect. If you have few beacons, few people will find you. If you "edit" your beacons, you will send a false image, and draw people to something that isn't true. If you put your beacons in the "wrong" places, you will draw the wrong people. If your beacons are "non-specific," you will draw "no-one in particular."

Hence the importance of putting out the energy that we truly want to "represent" us. Which is only possible through knowing who we truly are, and accepting that "100% me."

One final observation concerns the issue of "adaptability." HSPs tend to be extremely "pliable," and almost "chameleon-like," often to our detriment. Because we often have histories of being thought of as "oddballs" and "a bit strange," many of us grow "adept at adapting," and becoming whatever it is that's needed in a given moment, in order for us to fit in. Maybe that's allright in small doses and to accomplish specific short-term objectives in the world. However, in partnering it has serious consequences, when we choose to "make ourselves compatible" with people with whom we are definitely not compatible. I know broader pop-psychology teaches that compromise is an important part of relationships. But, in my opinion, that can only be "healthily" applied to such things as "which movie we're watching," or "where we'll vacation this summer." It was never meant to mean compromising our core values and basic sense of self.

I once heard someone describe the "measure" of love this way: "Ask yourself, do I love myself more, when I am around this person?" Genuinely, on a deep core level. If you cannot authentically answer "yes," move along to the next person.

Of course, these are just my opinions. That doesn't mean they are "right" for anyone else....

Friday, January 27, 2006

HSPs and Being a "Passenger" in your own life

I'll be the first to admit that the world can be a "grating" sort of place, and much of the time, I'd prefer to just stay at home with my books and my cats, over being "out there" in a big way.

However, when does liking "quiet time" turn from something we enjoy, and which helps us stay balanced and sane... into a form of "unhealthy isolation?" I have seen this, quite a bit, in an alarmingly large proportion of the many many HSPs I have met, over the past 8-10 years.

Along with that, I've observed another somewhat disturbing "habit" or trend. Most HSPs want to be participants in life, and what it has to offer. They even have a clear sense of what that participation entails. But that's pretty much where things end; participation remains a wish or dream, but never a reality.

As an example, I have met many who recognized their desire to be part of a local discussion/support group. Some even living in a city where a group had already formed. Yet, in spite of the desire to meet other HSPs, these people were almost completely unwilling to make the effort to become part of the group. It almost felt to me as if they expected the group leader to magically show up on their doorstep with an invitation. And then to come and personally pick them up, and drive them home again, on the days of meetings.

Which begs the question: "How can we honestly expect our lives to change for the better, if we're not willing to put in the effort to change our lives for the better?"

I guess the point I am trying to make, here, is that if you're waiting for the things you want in life to "just show up," you're allowing yourself to be little more than a "passenger" in your own life, rather than a participant. And, as a passenger-- I'm sad to tell you-- you don't get to have much say in where you end up. In a sense, most of those people who feel "victimized" by their life circumstances can also look within and notice how often they have often been "passengers."

I wonder how this plays out in your life? Do you recognize the places where you are limiting your experiences through expectations that whatever it is you want "should" not require effort and input from you? Do you recognize the places where you have "wished for" something, but never taken steps towards that something?

For me, it has been a matter of learning to stay alert to the gap between "wanting" and "having" something. Don't get me wrong, however. "Wanting" is fine, if you're happy with that, but "having" almost always requires effort, intent and an investment of emotional energy.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006


Sometimes things just don't quite turn out as simply as I'd hope.

All old entries from this blog's former life have now been "recovered" and "republished" so the archive links actually work. It was more work than I had expected. The "links" sections (at right) have also been updated and "dead" links killed.

In the process of this update, all comments under the "old" format were lost. When I started this blog, commenting wasn't part of the blogging interface-- we had to "import and install" a commenting utility from a third-party provider. Evidently, those comments didn't "translate" to the current format. Not as if there were ever more than a couple of comments per post... but still.

Anyway, if it's your first visit here, welcome! If you are here, reading these words, odds are you clicked on a link in my HSPBook signature line, or perhaps my aimoo HSP forum signature line, or maybe from a link at "Inner Reflections" or "HSP Connections." In any case, thanks for visiting!

If you have the time and inclination, there's some reasonably good "HSP life" info buried in the archives.

And I'd appreciate you leaving a comment to say hi, just so I know you've been here!

Monday, January 23, 2006


I have decided to revive this old blog, which I somewhat abandoned when I started the "Inner Reflections" blog on a different site. "Something" in my soul told me I needed to, and that it was time. I suppose, in part, because I have remained fairly involved in the HSP Community, and it would seem like a nice extension of the "HSP Connections" web site and resource guide.

Unfortunately, this is turning out to be more work than I had expected. I was using a very old template-- heavily customized-- from the early days of "blogger," and when I went to edit it the source code was no longer accessible. So I chose this nifty new template. Only... there was a problem. The problem was that every single old entry could no longer be seen... I could see them all from within the post editor, but from "public view" all that could be seen was a series of "404-Not Found" messages.

As a result of this, I have to open every post with the editor and save it again... which evidently "republishes" it with a valid URL, instead of the old one that leads nowhere. Remind me not to overcustomize this template....

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